El Salvador passes anti-gang law

El Salvador's National Assembly passed a law this week which criminalizes being a member of a gang. The law, endorsed by president Funes, was passed with the votes of 78 of the 84 deputies in the National Assembly. Membersship in a gang can be punished with up to six years in prison, while being a gang leader is punishable with a prison term of up to ten years. The LA Times reports on the bill's passage:

Simply belonging to a gang is about to become a criminal offense in El Salvador, a country where street gangs that incubated in Southern California terrorize neighborhoods and contribute to a high homicide rate.

The measure was prompted by outrage over gang attacks on two buses in June that killed 16 people. Congress approved the law Thursday, and it now awaits the signature of President Mauricio Funes, which probably will come soon. Funes was an early sponsor of the bill.

But several human rights activists and groups that work with gangs complained that the law emphasized punitive measures over tackling root causes.

"The history of El Salvador is the more government repression, the more violence we have," said Maria Silvia Guillen, head of a foundation that specializes in gangs and legal issues. To continue "with exclusively repressive measures, without taking into consideration prevention and reintegration [into society], is to continue making mistakes."

Antonio Rodriguez, a priest who runs a violence-prevention program at his parish in one of San Salvador's most troubled neighborhoods, said the government would do better by financing rehabilitation projects.

"This kind of law does not frighten the gangsters," he said

Others criticize the law for vagueness in defining what proof will establish that someone is a gang and for violating constitutional protections of freedom of expression. It is a law which lets the government appear to be doing something about the gangs, which gives the police another tool, but it does little to eliminate the root causes of gang activity or provide mechanisms for rehabilitation.


Robinson said…
As far as I know, El Salvador has already over twenty thousand inmates in a system with a capacity much lower than that. Have they asked where are they going to put all the new inmates. Does the law comes with a plan to build new prisons(which is fine by me). Are there rehabilitation programs for those that will hopeful get thrown in jail for belonging to a gang, without actually committing any serious crime. What I would like to know is what happens after those gang members serve their six years, do they go back to the gang and back to jail for another six years.

Tim, probing that someone belongs to a gang is easy. You just get witnesses. There's a saying in the spanish language that should prove useful for this new law: "Dime con quien andas y te dire quien eres."
Unknown said…
This law is not going to help the people that get deported from the usa and are trying to live a normal life. When the cops see someone that's been deported with tattoos, they harrass them to the fullest. They dont care if your not a gang member from el salvador they take you in for investigation anyways. If you have tattoos your already considered a gang member. This law is basically going to cause more problems for the people that get deported that are not from the 18 st or the ms gang. I have friends that are over there that have been there for years and are starting to get harrassed for no reason. Reportely the death squads have started again and all my friend are in fear of their lives. As far as building new prisons thats just something thats not going to get done, the will just throw more people in the already over populated prisons. Those cells are already packed and theres no place for people to sleep and lets not get started on the food portions. They should just really consider who else is going to be affected by this law besided the gang members.